This may well be the busiest two weeks in the Western Golf Association’s 105-year history.
The WGA, based in north suburban Golf, does much of its fundraising for its Evans Scholars Foundation through the staging of big tournaments. Until last year that basically meant putting on three events that were spread out over the course of the summer.
Last year the WGA added a fourth tournament – the Hotel Fitness Championship, which is part of the Web.com Tour Finals. This year the WGA will conduct the same four events, and the Western Junior and Western Amateur have already been held. The last two professional events will be held in back-to-back weeks.
The Hotel Fitness Championship tees off Thursday at Sycamore Hills in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the WGA’s biggest event follows with a Sept. 4-6 staging of the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills in Denver. The WGA staff will work both.
“It was different last year,’’ said WGA president and chief executive officer John Kaczkowski. “We had a week in between, and it was a little easier to manage them.’’
It’s not as easy this time. The Hotel Fitness Championship has 125 players – among them Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr. — battling to earn places on the PGA Tour for 2015. A week later the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings after this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston will battle for an $8 million purse at Cherry Hills.
The BMW Championship was held at Conway Farms in Lake Forest last year, which eliminated travel considerations for the WGA staffers. That’s not the case this time.
“At the end of the day it’s easier to run a tournament in Chicago,’’ said Kaczkowski, “but moving it is better for the organization. It gives us more exposure and is more lucrative for the Evans Scholars.’’
The more money raised, the more caddies that can receive college scholarships. The WGA has been providing them since 1930 and more than 800 are currently in college on Evans Scholarships.
This week’s Hotel Fitness Championship was created when the PGA Tour revised its qualifying school format. It brings together the top 75 players on the Web.com Tour money list and players ranked 125-130 on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings.
“It’s an interesting event with a really good field,’’ said Kaczkowski. “There’s some pretty big names in it (ex-major champions Mike Weir, Ben Curtis and Trevor Immelman). It’s taken awhile for the Fort Wayne community to understand what’s going on, but this year we’ve seen an uptick in ticket sales and we’re optimistic we’ll get good crowds.’’
Sainz barely made the field. His tie for 41st in the Web.com’s last regular season event, the Portland Open, gave him the No. 74 spot on the money list.
The BMW Championship returns to Conway Farms in 2015. Conway closed earlier this month for renovations, which include an upgrading of the practice ranging and re-grassing of all the greens in preparation for the return of the BMW.
Crooked Stick, in Carmel, Ind., is expected to host in 2016. The BMW Championship was played there in 2012 with Rory McIlroy winning the title. Club members are expected to formally approve the tourney’s return on Thursday. The previous event at Crooked Stick was one of the best-attended tournaments, with 143,000 showing up during the course of the week. It was also voted the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year.
Titles on line for IPGA, Mid-Am
The final rounds for both the 92nd Illinois PGA Championship and 22nd Illinois State Mid-Amateur will be played on Wednesday. The IPGA began its 54-hole run on Monday at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake and the Mid-Am started with 36 holes on Tuesday at Flossmoor Country Club.
Fields at both tournaments were cut after Tuesday’s rounds. The IPGA started with 117 players but only the low 60 and ties after 36 holes will play on Wednesday. The Mid-Am teed off with 81 players and was cut to the low 35 and ties plus any player within 10 shots of the lead for Wednesday’s wrapup.
Defending champions are Mike Small in the IPGA Championship and Todd Mitchell in the Mid-Am. Small is seeking his 11th win in the IPGA Championship and Mitchell is after his fifth victory in the Mid-Am. He won in both 2011 and 2013 at Flosssmoor.